Following is a transcript of part of what Keith Urban had to say earlier this week in a conference call:
Q: Are there any changes this season in format or any of the rounds or anything?
Keith: There’s a few things we’ve changed up. Certainly, the most recent one for me that really stood out was once we narrowed down our list of–we send over 200 people through to Hollywood and then we narrowed it down, of course, and then even further down to get to our top 48. Those 48 guys and girls we took it into the House of Blues in Los Angeles to put them into a live club setting where the band were set up. They got up on stage and did a song each in front of the audience in that club. We’ve never done that before. For me it was a really important part of the process because in years past we’ve seen them in these various audition environments and then they go straight to the TV studio. Then they are in front of a live audience. I really wanted to see what they were like in front of a club setting. Can they perform? Do they know how to perform live? Do they know how to move and connect with an audience? So that was a really telling environment to have them in. I’m glad that we got to do that. We then narrowed it down from there, but that was a really helpful part to make sure that we have solo performance in going into the live shows.
Q: Do you have, other than that, any kind of favorite moments so far that you can tease about this season?
Keith For me, actually, the House of Blues was pretty fun. Collectively, I think just doing audition cities. I love that part of it because they’re long days. We’re they are often hearing sometimes 100 people or so in a day. Getting to be on the set with Harry makes it a really fun day. Half the stuff that we talk about and engage in with Jen and all of us ends up on the cutting room floor. Those audition cities are a blast. I can’t single anything out but that whole part of the journey is really enjoyable for me.
Q: A question about Scott Borchetta as mentor. What is he going to bring to the show and especially with him being the man that discovered Taylor Swift and what he’s working with the contestants? He was there in Hollywood Week, right?
Keith: He’s been there, yes, all through that part of the process. For me, it’s been great having him there. He just brings a different kind of eye and ear and view, I think, an overall view. The best way to put it, I think, is having a sense of the relativity of an artist in today’s marketplace and what sort of audience are they going to find, what kind of record would they make. I just feel like he’s brought something very, very fresh into the family. It’s been very helpful already in weighing in as we start nailing everybody down.
Q: Do you think he’s found his next Taylor Swift, and he knows? It seems like with a background like him he’d be looking for a Nashville head but he also seems to be looking into a pop realm now. Isn’t he trying to expand his label that way?
Keith: First of all, I never think of it in terms of finding the next anybody. We want to find the first of anyone and that sort of individualism and uniqueness is what I’m always waiting for with Idol. I want to find that person that is just extraordinarily original because they are the ones. Adele was just very original. Taylor was very original. The artists that have really solidified their careers and made significant albums; they’re the ones that everyone else then tries to copy. I’m interested in finding originals.
Q: I just want to know, you’re such a seasoned veteran of the road. In order to do this for the third season you have to take like a few solid months off of touring. So, what do you miss about the road while you’re out there doing American Idol?
Keith: Actually, I really don’t take time off the road. We started our tour, certainly we started our official tour when Idol had wrapped. Certainly I was finishing up the album while Idol was still on the air. Then once we got into the audition cities we were back on the road again. So I was actually combining touring and going to the audition cities for Idol. It got pretty busy there around September, October, November, December of last year particularly. It got really busy. This year it was the same thing again. We wrapped up our second tour of the year while Idol was still happening.
Everything is music-based for me. So, whether I’m on the set of Idol or I’m in the studio or I’m on the stage everything I get to do is music-based. I just feel really, really lucky.
Q: While the season starts January 7th, or whatever that first week in January, does Nicole plan on watching with the girls at home every week just like the rest of us fans do?
Keith: Yes, and I love them watching because I like the way they respond to people. It’s very interesting. They watch like everybody else does and either respond to someone or they don’t and I’m interested in that because we can get sort of myopic with it sometimes being in the middle of it all. It’s great to get just a totally fresh perspective. I often ask Nic what she thinks of various people and who she likes and why; particularly why, that’s always interesting to me.
Q: Hi, there. Keith, so the past two Idol winners, Candice and Caleb, were artists who returned after being cut from previous seasons of the show. I was just wondering will we see any more familiar faces this season?
Keith: There’s been a few people that have come back to try out again. For me, it’s always interesting to see what’s happened in the time since. What have they learned from not making it further in the previous seasons and have they changed. I’m always curious too how– I hate the word rejection, but it’s kind of what happens to them. They’re cut at a certain point. How did that make them feel and how did they channel that? For me, personally, I’ve almost gotten more inspiration from the naysayers in my life than the people who believed in me. They’ve been a strong motivational force at times when I’ve seemingly failed or not gotten what I was trying to do. Those moments have ended up being huge motivational moments for me. So I’m interested if it’s the same for them.
Q: Was there a particular audition city this season that you feel was like a hotbed of talent?
Keith: I would say San Francisco delivered in spades. We finished up there and it was extraordinary. The turnout was extraordinary. We sent an enormous amount of people through. But certainly, having said that, every town delivered some very strong people. We went to six different cities mostly spending two days in every city. I’m sure we saw 500 to 600 people probably in the whole audition process and we sent well over 200 through to Hollywood. It’s a pretty potent group we had this year.
Q: I wanted to ask about the personality of the contestants this season. Have you found that every season seems to have some kind of different–it’s funny to watch because the contestants seem to have a personality, and whether it goes along genre lines or not. What are you seeing from this crop of talent this year? What’s the kind of vibe or is there an overarching genre going on?
Keith: One of the other things we added in this season, it’s so interesting you talk about that because when we did the Green Mile last year, which is that sort of part of the process where they come in and we tell them whether it’s a “yes” or a “no” that they’re going into the live shows. In some of those situations we had decided it was a “no” or a “yes.” They’d come in and we’d sit with them for a second and talk with them. Then we’d suddenly be thinking, huh, I wish we’d gotten to know this person a little better. There’s something about them that seems quite interesting.
So, this season we had a moment when we brought in a select amount of people that we wanted to meet just so that we can sort of get to talk to them and hear them talk to us a little bit because it’s usually they come up and they sing and then they leave and then they sing and then they leave. We don’t really get to know them very well. I was glad we got to do that this season. From there I think we really found some artists. You can tell, you know. You can have people that sing really well but they may not be really artists with a vision and an artistic vision of who they are and what kind of career they want to have. Sitting down and talking with them really allowed us to see that.
Q: Last week you were so sweet talking to Nicole, the artist of the year, like that was the sweetest acceptance speech. You also made a point to sing “It’s A Man’s Man’s World” with an all-female [indiscernible] band. As someone who loves his wife so much and you have two daughters why would you choose that song and to present it in that way?
Keith: I was just curious about playing with an all-girl band. It’s something I’ve been thinking about doing for a long time. If I had a situation that would sort of highlight the strengths of female musicianship we had in Nashville alone. I thought when you put all the different places together from not just the studios but also the colleges and live music venues and all kinds of places where you can find really great female musicians. I sort of thought I bet we could put an entirely full big new band together made up of all kind of ages and from all different musical places.
So we had some girls from Belmont College. We had some seasoned session players in there. We had people that have been out touring with people and it was a good mix. It was really my way of sort of highlighting that side of Nashville. Then it started with putting the band together and then it was like what song would I do with this all-girl band and I said there’s only one song I would do and “It’s A Man’s Man’s World”. Maybe it’s growing up in a house full of girls, too. I thought it was an apropos song.
Q: You’ve been doing this for several seasons now and I was wondering what you get out of doing American Idol and working with this young talent that you don’t get from being a performer yourself?
Keith: Well, first of all, I think one of the things I’ve always loved about doing this show is that I did a few of them as a contestant when I was very young in Australia. When I was nine years old I went on a show called Pot of Gold. Then there was another show called Have a Go Show. There was another show called Stairway to the Stars. For whatever reason my parents thought these shows were a good place for me to go to maybe not only hopefully get a leg up career wise but also get some advice and feedback, which I certainly did. Some of it’s pretty scathing. So I know what it’s like to be humiliated in front of everybody on TV.
I was thinking this morning, unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find any of those performances. Then I thought it may not be unfortunate. It maybe a good thing I can’t find any of those. The only one that exists is when I was 16 and it was just a pretty average performance. But I have a lot of empathy for these guys and girls on the other side of the desk singing and I do feel what they’re going through. Part of me enjoys it for being able to relate to them a lot.
Q: You mentioned earlier that this is a family and that there was a new addition to the family. I’m wondering, if your daughters wanted to pursue this are you, like, okay? Is it okay to have a career in music or because of all the negativity that they experience along the way are you hoping they won’t?
Keith: I just think first and foremost everybody’s got a calling and we just have to figure out what that is and where it is. If it’s a real calling, I’m really of the belief, that if you had that calling inside you that this is what you’re here to do, this is what you’re meant to do, nobody’s going to take you off that path. I’ve received some pretty scathing criticisms in some of those TV shows that I did. None of it threw me off my path at all. Certainly when I moved to Nashville I experienced huge amounts of rejection when I got to Nashville, but none of it threw me off my path. It would be the same with our girls if they had sort of a real aptitude and calling to do anything we’re going to support that, but they also have to know that there’s work involved in all of it. You’ve got to work and you’ve got to be ready for it.
Q: I was wondering I had read a quote from you where you talked about in addition to obviously having talent that something the contestants would need are a great work ethic and just being good to people. I’m wondering aside from the mentoring that we see on the show where obviously it’s mostly involved with performance and singing and stage presence, do you ever have occasion where you maybe pull somebody aside to discuss those other things, maybe if you can see that they need to work a little harder or they need an attitude adjustment? Is that something that you ever tried to mentor on?
Keith: If I get the opportunity to have those moments with anybody that I think I can help I certainly take to it straightaway because we’re all needing guidance, all of us. For me that never stops. We all need some honest sounding boards.
The one thing I find with Idol, and it’s really just par for the course is that a lot of these guys and girls come from towns where they may not have been exposed to lots and lots of people. They’re really revered in their little town. They’re the most amazing thing in that town or they’re the most amazing thing that plays up the road at that particular club or whatever and no one has really been honest with them on the things they can work on. Maybe the family is just praising everything they do. Maybe they’re very talented but they now need to hear some real feedback on things that they could work on. God knows, we’ve all got things we can work on.
Q: I know this is your third year judging and I was wondering how your decision making process has evolved, say, compared to maybe even last year coming into the new season?
Keith: I think more and more I find myself going with a gut reaction to someone’s performance. It’s do I feel something? I think it’s just so simple. It’s like did I feel something from this performer. I mean sometimes they can even have a pretty average voice but they know what to do with it to communicate and to get my attention and to make me feel something. I’m interested in all of those things because at the end of the day it’s all about connecting. The way in which we all do that is infinite.
There’s plenty of people to come on and they sing and they sound amazing and I don’t feel anything. I drift off. I’m not interested. So those people I’m not going to respond to them. I’m going to respond to the people that I feel something from.
Q: You were maybe thinking less about how great their voice is and more about how they make me feel.
Keith: Yes, because, you know, it’s so impossible to define what that is. Someone’s got a great voice and then does Joe Cocker have a great voice? Yes, but he communicates. There’s so many ways to sing and make a connection. For me that’s what it’s all about. I just want to be connected. Someone who sings kind of a bit all over the place pitch-wise still may be able to be riveting in making me feel and listen to what they’re singing.
Q: How do you feel about the crop of contestants that you whittled down to? Are there any general comments you can make?
Keith: I feel really good about it. Actually, one of the things that we’ve done this year which we’ve never done before is at top 48 we took 48 singers into the House of Blues in Los Angeles and put them in a real club setting. They got the band on stage. They come up and do a song each. There’s an audience just like it would be if you just wandered into the House of Blues and saw them up on stage playing, singing at their own gig.
I loved that we got to see what it was like being at their gig, albeit, for one song but still it was a very telling environment. You could see quickly the ones, maybe they sang great, but they just froze on stage. They’re not ready. For me it was such a great part of this process. From there we could whittle it down to the top 24.
Q: Adam Lambert stepped in for you for the New York auditions. I don’t know if you got to see all the stuff that was taped later on and if you agreed with all his choices.
Keith: I haven’t seen anything from those shows yet.
Q: Also, the fact that around that time your Idol family seemed to really embrace you. Adam stepped in and you were really able to be there. Your fans seem to really–also, I know you posted a lot of stuff on Facebook about how touched you were. Can you just talk about sort of trying to go through that experience and deal with all your work commitments and how everybody stepped up for you and how you stepped up for Nic, too?
Keith: Well, I mean, the loss of Nic’s dad was just a huge, huge–I can’t even describe what that moment was like for our family. I was very, very close to Nic’s dad. It’s very fresh. It’s very recent.
I was obviously scheduled to go to Brooklyn and do two days shooting Idol and it was an amazing thing that a TV network would step in and say, “Don’t you worry. You be with your family. You’ve got to be there. We’ll figure out a way to cover all this. Don’t worry about it.” I don’t take those things for granted. You would think people would have a heart but you often don’t see it and so when I saw it in action with all of the network at FOX and all of the people involved in Idol, and then, of course, my fan base because of a couple of show I had to miss. It was an extraordinary thing. Adam Lambert stepped up and filled in for me in Brooklyn. It was an amazing thing to see that support. I was very, very grateful.
Q: What do you feel that you’ve learned this year that you’ve taken into each area of your life from all the other things going on in your life, especially with your touring and your TV and just having a family now. Do they all sort of feed into each other in your career and your creativity? How do they feed each other?
Keith: I would say it grows outwards from Nic and I. I really feel like that’s the center of my whole life is the two of us and then our family is the center, the basis of everything. For me it gives everything a purpose. I’ve always played music ever since I was a kid. This is my third Season doing Idol and etcetera, etcetera. Those things have just continued to become—I don’t know. There’s just more feeling in it, I guess, is the best way to say it.
Look, eight years of sobriety as well has an impact on the way I feel in the world that I didn’t use to. That’s had an incredible affect on my life as well. It’s all just very fleeting. You loose a family member and you’re reminded of the brevity of life and the fragility of it and how it can go very, very quickly. I don’t want to miss any of it. None of it I don’t want to miss any time with Nic or our family. I don’t want to feel like I missed any musical things, songs I could’ve written, and all that sort of stuff.
It’s just trying find a way to balance that all and enjoy it. Yes, it’s work but I want to make sure we enjoy it too because at the end of the life we’ll be like did we have fun. Did we have fun as well in the midst of it all? I feel really lucky that I get to do so many things that for me are all really fun and not coincidentally all music related; whether it’s Idol, whether it’s HSN, whether it’s performing live, whether it’s writing music, making records. Everything is music related.
Q: I wanted to go back to your comment about growing up with a house full of girls because I think that really helps people. Alan Jackson is someone who grew up with all sisters and then had all daughters. It seems to round him out as a person. Tell us a little bit more about that. How many sisters did you have? Where were you in there? How having had women in your life so much constantly, how has that maybe affected you in some way?
Keith: Well, it’s interesting I’d say I didn’t grow up in a house full of girls. I’ve landed in a house full of girls with Nic, Sunny, and Faith. I come from a family with just two boys, me and my brother, mom and dad. Suddenly to go from that and spending most of my life being in bands and traveling around in vans with a bunch of guys and on buses with guys to find myself in a home with all girls now is an extraordinary thing. I’m so glad I got to do this. It feels very, very comfortable to me.
Q: In your song writing and everything else to have women around you so much?
Keith: Yes. As the song said, it’s a man’s world, but it wouldn’t be nothin’ without a woman or a girl. It’s just such a great song.
Q: You mentioned that it’s good to see these kids in a club setting. Reflect for a minute because you did a lot of clubs both in Australia and in Nashville. Reflect, what was it like for you when you were trying to work clubs earlier? Did you have any really bad experiences with it or what was it like overall for you?
Keith: Oh, infinite, infinite bad experiences. I’ve been fired from a gig before. I’ve had every kind of insults and abuse hurled at me on stage. Some of it verbal. Some of it physical, literally things thrown at me. Especially growing up in Australia you play at really rough places there. But it’s where you learn everything. I learned everything playing in tiny clubs and slowly building that way up.
That’s why on the season of Idol taking these 48 artists that we’ve finally narrowed it down to into the House of Blues was such a great experience and that was a friendly environment, but none the less, it’s a club. You’re on stage. There’s the audience. We had a few technical glitches and it was interesting to watch the guys and girls who knew how to handle those moments where there was a long pause, awkward silences, things that went wrong, and it’s just crucial. Some people dive straight into the arenas and it’s just zero to a hundred as far as their career goes. I think there’s no substitute for the slow build learning the ropes gradually as you go. Otherwise, you’re going to have to figure it out in those huge venues.
Q: We’re going to be carrying Idol here in Canada. Every yes proves to be more and more important with every season. For instance, Season 13 runner up Jena Irene was a wild card. So has there been a particular “yes” that you’ve given this season to send someone through that’s quite memorable to you?
Keith: There’s one or two people particularly that I’m thinking of right now, obviously the names I can’t say, that either Harry, Jen, or I or sometimes a couple of us felt really strongly about that maybe other people didn’t pick up on but we sort of saw something or felt something and really fought for them. They’ve made it through and then suddenly they’ve made it through to the next round and the next round. Everybody is starting to see, oh my gosh, this person is extremely talented. We never really noticed that before. I love when that happens.
Q: Then, you’ve said, “No” to a lot of things in your career but what are some of the things you’ve said, “Yes” to that have gotten you where you are now today in your life?
Keith: Well, firstly, coming to America with really nothing. I was 24 when I moved to Nashville. I really didn’t know anybody and just showed up because I believed I was supposed to be there. I was afraid it would take a long time. It didn’t sort of phase me when it started taking awhile to get support in that town.
Someone said to me one time after being there five years and still nothing really happening. Someone said, “Did you ever think about going home?” I said, “No. Never.” It never occurred to me. I don’t know if that’s something that I think of it in terms of saying “yes” to but it’s something that I didn’t question. I never questioned it. I knew I was in the right place and it would take what it took and I just stayed the course.
Q: You touched upon this a little bit. Last year we saw Harry cradle a contestant while he sang in the audition. Are there any funniest moments during the auditions that we should be looking out for this year?
Keith: Well, certainly one of them I think we already saw in one of the ads with the guy that danced with Jen and Harry and I played. There’s been a few of those magic moments in the audition cities, which is part of why I love doing those cities. They’re really long days. We’re often hearing 70 to 80 people in one day, one after the other. But they’re also the cities where stuff really unexpected and magical happens and it’s always great that the cameras are rolling. We got plenty of that this year.
Q: How would you describe Jen and Harry as judges and how are they different off camera?
Keith: They feel like family. For me if feels like I’m somewhere between family and a band. It feels like we’re a four piece band because I put Ryan in there too. It feels very, very fluid. There’s no other way to say it other than what you guys see on camera is what it is off camera. There’s no difference. It’s just always the same. I’m constantly texting Harry goofball stuff. I’ll email Ryan. It’s just a good legit synergy everybody has with one anothe